The Fire Service Change Agent

By: Marlene Kostyrka, Battalion Chief, City of Winston-Salem (NC) Fire Department

As I sat in a recent Executive Fire Officer class and discussed the adaptive challenges that the fire service is faced with, it occurred to me that we all desire positive change.

Change has to become part of our culture, whether that is in the training we are currently using for seasoned staff or with the new generation of firefighters that are coming on board. Part of that desired change is diversity, yet it is a challenge in many professions, including our own, so how do we accomplish it?

Why is diversity such a struggle?

The retail world has figured out that they need many generations, genders, and backgrounds of people

White clock with words Time for Change on its face

representing their stores. The door greeter is usually someone who was working before cash registers were invented and the young high school grad is running the electronics department. Managers are usually the baby boomers who have great work ethics. How has the retail world figured this out, but so many have not?

Why diversity matters

First, we must understand the value of having a diverse workforce that reflects the community we serve. Often a diverse workforce can connect and reach into communities far greater than one that is not. To do this though we have to increase our approach at all points.

The way we interact with young people and influence them about careers is important. The impression we leave and an ability to identify with them may provide a career aspiration they may not have otherwise had. The way we communicate in our advertising has to be accessible and identifiable.

Succession planning is also a must and that discussion should start in recruit school. Leaders must set examples and be willing to share knowledge. The fire service must do more to begin opening doors to all people.

Starting with a mindset

As I was packing my car to leave the National Fire Academy, I was approached by a fellow student and he left me with a20160914_change-agent-badge great message. He reminded that in order for me to be successful in my department I would need to allow every member in my department to be successful. I asked him how this would be possible and he said, “you are a change agent.”

I challenge you to be a change agent for your department. Find out the strengths and weakness of your teammates, challenge them to be good at what they do, and place them in the spotlight. At the same time, hold them accountable, make them understand that diversity is good, get them to be part of the cultural shift, and give them hope that change is coming.

See Related: Seven Roles of a Change Agent

Our people are the key to the fire service’s success and they hold the future in their hand. The fire service is an all-encompassing job; it is not just about fighting fire anymore. It is about solving the multiple problems our customers have. To do this we must be able to connect on multiple levels.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”– Mahatma Gandhi

Are you ready to be a change agent?

20160517_Marlene Bio PhotoMarlene Kostyrka is a Battalion Chief with the City of Winston-Salem Fire Department, in North Carolina.  She has fifteen years of experience in the fire service having served as a volunteer firefighter before moving to Winston-Salem where she started as a firefighter and progressed to engineer and then captain.

Chief Kostyrka currently serves in the position of administrative chief working as the department’s Accreditation Manager.  She holds many fire service certifications, has earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science and a Master’s Degree in Executive Fire Leadership and Disaster Preparedness.  She enjoys spending time with her four children and husband of 19 years. Chief Kostyrka is currently a student in the Executive Fire Office Officer Program at the National Fire Academy.

Contact Chief Kostyrka at:

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail,